Originally written by one of our mentors, Falgooni Mehta, this story talks about her extraordinary journey with her mentee Priyanka (name changed in the interest of protecting the mentee’s identity) and Mentor Me India, since 2017.
It’s almost 10.30 PM. As I am preparing to sleep, I begin my daily routine of chanting a Buddhist prayer before I retire to bed. I think about my day tomorrow. It’s a working Saturday; so, I cannot go to meet my mentee like I usually do. I follow up this thought with a prayer in her name – and right then, I receive a call. It’s a video call on WhatsApp – and to my pleasant surprise, it’s from my mentee, Priyanka! My prayer seemed to have reached her instantly.
As we speak over the call, I think back on the year-and-a-half since I first met my mentee, through the dedicated folks at Mentor Me India. Mentor Me India is a Mumbai-based mentoring NGO that matches 9-14 years old children from low-income families with inspiring role-models in the form of mentors. During my first meeting with Priyanka, I remember how she beamed from ear to ear. She did not speak a word. I thought she was shy, and maybe, a bit overwhelmed (as was I) by the electric atmosphere of Mentor Me India’s orientation. The second time I met her, I had to re-introduce myself – and only then did the 11-year-old start to recall me, slowly.
It was 2016 when I first discovered the Mentor Me India organisation. I distinctly remember it because I had lost both my parents recently. I was inspired by their belief to always give back to society. It was then, during that emotional phase, that I felt the urgent need to pay it forward. I was moved by the vision of Mentor Me India – to support needful children to dream big and empower them to pursue their dreams by building strong one-to-one mentoring relationships. I had experienced first-hand the lack of mentorship of this sort, myself. I joined them as a mentor in July that year.
The journey was certainly not easy. Initially, I struggled to connect with Priyanka through dialogue, but I knew one thing for sure – I was not going to give up. I racked up my brains to innovate and kept thinking of new ways in which we could connect. With Mentor Me India’s round-the-year support in the form of group mentoring sessions and mentor meet-ups every quarter, I came up with many activities of interest to my mentee. Together we planted a tree, which Priyanka promised to look after (but soon forgot to) among other things. We watched cartoons and movies together, filled out colouring books, and gave craft a shot. All the while, Priyanka barely spoke a few words.
On another instance, I recall having gone to meet Priyanka at her home – it was a Sunday. There she was, lying down but awake, coyly listening to the conversation between her mother and me, but not at all keen to speak anything until I had left.
However, slowly, steadily, over the months, I could find a notable change in her. I found that Priyanka was getting more and more assertive. She was beginning to state clearly what she wanted to do. I think the turning point came when we watched the Bollywood movie “Dangal” during one of our meetings. As I discussed the movie later with Priyanka, I was surprised to see how strongly the two female characters in the movie had impacted her. Immediately afterwards, we went for an ice-cream – and as usual, I ordered on behalf of Priyanka too. But once again, I was surprised, and gladly so, to see that for the first time since we had met, she denied the ice-cream flavour I chose for her. Instead, she wished to have something of her own choice. This was something she would rarely do, initially.
Such small changes over time made me grow as a person. I learnt to be more patient, to not be disheartened by failure, and to never give up! So today, when she sends me messages on WhatsApp, I feel happy that I never gave in to my disappointment. I feel content that I never gave up on my mentee, thanks to Mentor Me India’s constant hand-holding and guidance.
In my second year of mentoring, I have plans for Priyanka and am determined to meet and share many things with her. I wish to enroll her in a vocational training institute, where she can become skilled and excel in what she chooses to do in life. I want her to become a confident and independent individual. I feel Mentor Me India has given me a platform and a chance to relive my childhood, through the dreams and aspirations of my mentee. It has given me an opportunity to come to terms with my own self and my own life. I can proudly assert that in the past year-and-a-half, I have evolved, along with Priyanka, like never before.
A version of this article was first published here.
To learn more about Mentor Me India, visit here.
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